The Herald Bulletin

March 16, 2013

Starting the garden

It's not too early to begin growing seeds indoors

By Emma Bowen Meyer
For The Herald Bulletin

ANDERSON, Ind. — Even if it’s too early to grab a shovel and head for the garden, the time has come to start growing seeds indoors.

To get a jump on the season and enjoy fresh vegetables sooner, planting in trays can provide healthy sprouts to transfer once spring finally does break.

As a Master Gardener who has taught workshops on plant propagation, Tami Coleman can walk even a novice through the steps to spawning a successful garden. Her propagation bench is filled with trays that have little green sprouts poking their heads above the soil.

“This is great therapy,” said Coleman, member of the Anderson Tree Commission. “By this time of year everyone is tired of winter and it is such a hoot to walk over and pick up the lid a couple times a day and see something happy and growing. It’s great for getting over the blahs.”

u Step 1: Space out seeds of favorite vegetables on a damp a paper towel and insert into a Ziploc bag — one bag for each type of veggie. Wrap the bags together in a dark cloth and store them in a warm place for about a week.

Choose long-season vegetables or vegetables tender to the frost. This includes everything in the nightshade family, including tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. Even cold weather vegetables, such as broccoli and cauliflower, can be started inside and transplanted later.

Seeds need dampness and darkness to sprout. Packages will inform gardeners exactly how long to allow germination before moving to soil. By doing this, duds can be weeded out before planting. Coleman discards any seed that has not sprouted in the paper towels.

u Step 2: Mix soil appropriate for seeds.

Laymen may assume that the more nutrients in the soil, the better. Coleman says that seeds need lean — or nutrient free — soil to grow well.

“Seeds actually have all the nutrients they need,” she said. “What you want is a sterile mix that is disease free. The more nutrients that are in the soil, the more molds you will have. I make my own mix because I find the commercial mixes are not light enough.”

In a large purple container she combines several mixes to get just the right consistency. If a gardener chooses to purchase soil, she should look for one designated for seeds rather than plants.

u Step 3: Fill pots with soil.

By keeping small pots from previous years, she has plenty to start this year’s garden. Some are thin plastic flats while others are round pots. She does steer clear of containers with no holes in the bottom — for reasons that become clear in a future step.

u Step 4: Carefully plant the sprouted seeds.

Using a marker, she makes an indentation in the center of the pot. Using tweezers she carefully removes the sprouted seed from the damp paper towel and places it in the hole. Since she has carefully labeled the plastic bags that housed the seeds, she can also label the pots.

“You get extra points for getting the roots down,” she added.

u Step 5: Water from the bottom.

Most people will pour water over the top of their freshly planted seeds. It only seems natural — that is where the rain would fall. However, this is the point where Coleman uses the strategically-placed holes in the bottom of the containers.

“When you water from the top you create hills and valleys,” she explained. “They can push the seed around and uproot seedlings. Placing water in the tray and letting it soak up into the pots is a gentle way to water the seeds.”

u Step 6: Provide plenty of light and water.

While her propagation bench does have florescent lights to aid the growth of her tiny plants, artificial light is not necessary — as long as an adequate supply of light is available. Windows that face south are a great substitute for artificial light.

“When you garden you are always learning,” said Coleman. “You learn new techniques and about new plants to grow. It’s a great way to always be learning something new about nature, the environment and your own abilities.”

Each week, Emma Bowen Meyer features a Madison County home. If you know of a home that should be showcased, send an email to emmagoldiemeyer@yahoo.com.